As part of the research for our recent customer briefing, The rise of the Apps, fellow solutions architect Richard Harvey and I locked ourselves in a room with a voice recorder and discussed networks - specifically the increasingly app-centric way that corporate IT operates, and the resulting impact on the way networks are provisioned.
After an amount of chatting about the changing demand, roles and environment for IT in business, we came up with an analogy which we thought summarises the move from traditional, hardware-focused IT delivery, to the modern, agile allocation of resources that we call the software-defined network. It didn't make it into the briefing document, but I thought I'd share it here.
Think of the corporate IT infrastructure as a house, or better still a mixed-use development of shops and flats. In the past the block tended to be planned and built for a defined set of users, and configured accordingly. Changing the use significantly would mean you'd need to tear down the walls and rebuild, with all the planning, permissions, budgeting, delay and disruption that entails. If you wanted to house more shops or residents than the original scope, you'd need to extend - again, with all the delay and inconvenience of that.
That's fine when you're looking at residents and shops who're there for the long-term, or to step out of the analogy again, your mature, stable IT systems and resources, but IT consumption is now increasingly driven by apps and outcomes, and innovation by short-term, comparatively high-risk projects. Heading back into our analogy, that's the start-up and pop-up ventures, which might need a bit of office or shop space in which to fail - or succeed - very quickly.
One of the biggest changes brought about by cloud models of IT provision is that all networking infrastructure is now becoming flexible enough to support both these long-term residents and short-term opportunists: our building is now more easily expanded, repurposed and reconfigured. Instead of having to knock down and build walls to accommodate a start-up, I simply partition off a new area of the building. If a long-term resident needs more growth, I simply move the partitions around - none of the tenants will notice or care.
This kind of flexibility is enabled by the software-defined network, where the nature of the underlying building becomes far less relevant because it's so easily changed. Perhaps it's a building you own or lease, or perhaps it's a secure, partitioned space in somebody else's building: the infrastructure is out there, and the new intelligence in networking lets you pull together the resources you need in a more dynamic, responsive and transparent way than before.
So, with this new flexibility, what do you want to do?